Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Hachodesh

The Critical Role of Women Then and Now – Vayakhel-Pekudei

And all the women (Exodus 35:26)

וכל הנשים (שמות לה:כו)

The inclusion of women was also fundamental to the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert.

When Moses, in Parashat Vayakhel, calls upon the nation to donate the necessary materials for construction, the text notes, “And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands and brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen; And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair.” (35:25-26) The text describes the women as people “whose hearts stirred them up in wisdom…” How is spinning thread connected to wisdom of the heart—and specifically women’s hearts? Tamar Odenberg, an attorney for Yad L’Isha, a women’s advocacy group in Israel, explains that spinning reflects an innate female quality that only the women could bring to the Tabernacle: “The essence of the wisdom of women is in creating threads that are meant to connect between two or more things. The wisdom of the work of spinning utilizes the connection of different threads as a path to build the House of God…Our parashah deals with the construction of the House of God which is also the construction of each woman’s personal house which, in her wisdom, she weaves the family frame and connects between the different parts of the family…This wisdom is an inner wisdom of the heart—what we today call emotional intelligence, with which women are blessed…” Rather than preventing women from taking part in the work of the Tabernacle, Moses understood and appreciated that without their unique vision, intelligence and contribution, the men would never be able to properly build a House of God on their own.

The unique role and critical contribution of women has been a fundamental value of Jewish society almost since the the beginning of Jewish life and in the life of modern Israel.. Just three years after the country’s founding, the Knesset passed the Women’s Equal Rights Law, guaranteeing equal protection under the law and providing the legal basis for gender equality in all spheres of life. Today women serve in key roles throughout the Israeli political system, and have held posts including chief justice of the Supreme Court, the speaker of the Knesset and the permanent representative to the United Nations. The IDF assigns 1,500 women to combat positions annually, and women and men have equal rights to serve in any role in the IDF. These public sector values enter into the private sector as well, where women play a fundamental role in Israel’s “start-up nation” success story. Israel has the highest female entrepreneurship rate in the world, and women hold more than 30 percent of managerial positions in Israel’s top 100 companies, among the highest ratio in the world.

Today, Israel has emerged as a leader in promoting gender equality and protecting the rights of women—carefully balancing diverse religious sensitivities with strong support for universal rights—all of which is unprecedented in the Middle East. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors in the desert, Israeli women of all faiths serve as leaders in government, the military, business and civil society, skillfully weaving the threads of the country together as agents of change, peace and prosperity. Shabbat Shalom